Multimedia Caesar set to be a mindbender

2010-09-18 08:35

Cape Town-based choreographer Jay Pather’s interdisciplinary ­deconstruction of ­William ­Shakespeare’s epic, Julius Caesar, is set to be a mindbender.

Pather has secured the sumptuous Cape Town City Hall and will use 14 of its rooms to depict different scenes of his version of the classic, which he has called Qaphela Caesar.

“I’m not interested in Shakespeare in its purest form. It really works when one is able to appropriate it and question the characters. The purists are going to find four pages of Shakespeare in the whole production,” says Pather.

“A number of questions that Shakespeare has raised are open-ended and allow for one’s own ­interpretation.”

Pather says he has drawn ­parallels between Caesar and South Africa’s colonial past and contemporary political battles.

Irrespective of time, “issues of betrayal and power” allow the ­different scenarios to relate to each other in this “multimedia massacre”, he asserts.

“The betrayals and counter­betrayals, and the question of ­political ethics are parallels between Caesar and contemporary South Africa. The political moment is saturated with wonderful ideas and possibilities,” says Pather.

“I’ve repositioned Caesar so you’re not going to walk into a theatre space and watch a ­performance. Instead, you’re going to walk through an installation.”

He’s also made use of the ­defunct-yet-still-standing Fifa ­media room in City Hall.

Local government officials ­haven’t been prepared to take any of it down so Pather has ­constructed a press conference in the room with its tables and chairs laid down where journalists had reported on the soccer spectacle.

It works as Caesar is also about strongly familiar territory: colonial powers as well as ego trips, traps and tumbles.

His reconstruction – by the aforementioned default – “starts against the Fifa backdrop”.

He says: “The different (World Cup) flags are still up. I have five opera singers who start a vocal piece in this scene.

There’ll be footage of stock markets collapsing and it’s stopped by a sangoma who uses traditional Zulu praise poetry to start the real story.

“This production will have a sense of decay. It’s about regimes of the past that we keep ­replacing.”

So many attempts abound at creating more “African” versions of established expressions that this could have come off as African kitsch if treated with a sense of obligation or political correctness.

However, Pather says his use of contemporary African dance ­language was never about ­“suddenly discovering a township”.

As he walks through the 14 rooms he relates each scene in ­bizarre, abstract or provocative ­detail.

A pole dancer will feature in one scene while headless stuffed suits and spilling blood also play their part.

The cast of 28 performers includes award-winning actor Mwenya ­Kabwe, and dancers from the ­Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre, Jazzart Dance Company, UCT School of Dance and UCT Opera School.

Classical opera and ballet will thus “meld” with contemporary ­African dance and drama.

It’s up to you to judge whether Pather’s Qaphela is a contemporary masterpiece based on a classic – or not.

» Qaphela Caesar runs at the Cape Town City Hall until September 22. An ­audience of no more than 50 can be ­accommodated for each performance. Book at Computicket

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